Executive councilor’s position on passenger rail study off track
A few weeks ago, Nashua enjoyed a rare visit by our executive councilor, David Wheeler.He appeared as a guest before our Board of Aldermen to explain his deciding vote several weeks ago that resulted in the state rejecting a federal grant to study the feasibility of passenger rail along the Nashua-Concord corridor.We were sadly disappointed by Wheeler’s remarks that evening for the following reasons: • Wheeler repeatedly claimed that the issue of passenger rail has already been studied multiple times in the past and that there’s no reason to further study the issue. He kept citing a 2003 study that is now close to 10 years old and relies on circumstances that are sadly outdated.Today’s economic and business factors are far different than they were in 2003, which means the potential benefits to passenger rail are far higher today than they were 10 years ago. Yet Wheeler chose to ignore this reality during his visit and his vote several weeks ago, and instead chose to rely on antiquated information. • Wheeler claimed (again) that he had talked with members of the local business community before voting against the federal study, and that those business leaders privately assured him there is not strong support for rail among businesses in his district.On this point, let me be very clear: Wheeler has never discussed passenger rail with the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce president; he has never discussed the issue with the chamber’s Advocacy Committee, which is responsible for determining the collective positions of Nashua’s business community; and he has never discussed the issue with the chamber’s board of directors – the body that happens to be comprised of Nashua’s leading businesspeople.Furthermore, Wheeler has never even replied to multiple invitations he has received from the chamber to attend our many legislative events and programs during his tenure as our executive councilor.Wheeler’s claim that he has talked with a few local businesses that are not in favor of passenger rail is likely true, since we all know there is not one single issue that ever enjoys unanimous support. But it is disingenuous for him to imply that he has fully vetted this issue with his business constituents. • Wheeler claimed during his visit that he has received as much positive feedback as negative feedback since casting his deciding vote.I will take this opportunity to remind him that every informal and formal survey conducted in New Hampshire during the past 10 years has consistently demonstrated that more than 70 percent of New Hampshire residents support the idea of expanding passenger rail. • Wheeler claimed to not know anything about private sector dollars being used to help secure the federal study he voted against.The fact that he does not know this background information is evidence that he has not paid enough attention to this issue.Prominent companies and private organizations throughout his district were approached by the state three years ago and asked to contribute donations that would cover the cost of the Department of Transportation applying for the federal grant in question. They responded by contributing more than $120,000, which allowed the state to apply for – and win – the federal grants that Wheeler subsequently rejected.It is an insult for private businesses to be asked by the state to contribute scarce dollars toward applying for a federal grant, see those dollars successfully secure the federal grant, and then watch those dollars be flushed away by Wheeler’s vote to reject that very same grant.Wheeler still has time to correct his ill-advised vote and the reasons behind it. The Executive Council can reconsider its vote if he chooses to resurrect the issue.We call upon him to do so and start representing the future economic wellbeing of his constituents rather than living in the past.J. Christopher Williams is president and CEO of the Greater Nashua Chamber of Commerce.